Well, the Black Knights didn't hold the ball for 35 minutes in Saturday's game at Michie Stadium — they controlled it for 40 minutes and 19 seconds. That was just enough for Army to knock Northwestern from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 21-14 non-conference victory.
Remember Northwestern's dismal finish last year? When the Wildcats didn't have enough strength or fundamentals to stop Penn State, Illinois and Wisconsin from running whenever and wherever they wanted? Army's triple-option attack rolled up 381 yards on 75 carries. Led by quarterback Trent Steelman, the Black Knights set the tone early by converting third- and fourth-down situations with alarming frequency. Army finished 7 of 16 on third downs and 3 of 3 on fourth-down tries.
That's not the way anybody wants to go into Northwestern's only bye week. But the Wildcats' problems on Saturday weren't limited to the defensive side of the ball.
Sophomore quarterback Kain Colter, who performed well in NU's first two games, had to be yanked in the fourth quarter after failing to exploit a porous Army pass defense. Colter hit just 12 of 23 passes for 89 yards before giving way to redshirt freshman Trevor Siemian. He clicked on 5 of 7 passes for 105 yards — including a short pass to Jeremy Ebert that the senior turned into a game-tying 62-yard score — but Siemian couldn't lead another tying drive in the final moments.
"It's a pretty lonely feeling getting benched," Colter said in the Chicago Tribune. "Trevor did a good job. I think I got happy feet and should have stayed in the pocket. I ended up killing us. … I had a really bad game, and I take the blame for that."
If there's a consolation prize for Northwestern, which has to sit on this loss for two weeks before traveling to Illinois on Oct. 1, it's the fact senior quarterback Dan Persa should be closer to returning. Fitzgerald said Persa was cleared for emergency use against Army, though emergency was defined as injuries to Colter, Siemian and third-string quarterback Evan Watkins.
"I'm going to talk to him, listen to him," Fitzgerald said regarding Persa and his healing Achilles' tendon. "He is the key guy in this, and he has been brutally honest. He felt good last week. I'm glad we have the bye week."
—After surrendering 381 rushing yards in the Sept. 17 loss at Army, Northwestern dropped to dead-last among Big Ten teams in rushing defense. The Wildcats are allowing 205.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 105th nationally. NU has been playing without three anticipated starters on defense: DT Jack DiNardo (leg), OLB Collin Ellis (thumb) and S David Arnold (undisclosed).
—Northwestern's rush defense wasn't alone in taking a turn for the worse on Saturday. Northwestern's rushing game managed just 115 yards as QB Kain Colter led the way with 57 yards in 10 carries. Running backs Mike Trumpy, Jacob Schmidt and Treyvon Green combined for 59 yards on 16 carries (3.7-yard average).
—When an opponent runs the ball 75 times, there are going to be plenty of chances to pile up tackles. Four Northwestern defenders posted double-digit stops at Army and all four set personal-bests in the category: Senior OLB Bryce McNaul (15 tackles), redshirt freshman S Ibraheim Campbell (13), junior MLB David Nwabuisi (12) and senior CB Jeravin Matthews (10). Perhaps most telling was the fact the whole team managed just 1 tackle for loss: Nwabuisi's 11-yard sack in the second quarter.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Trevor Siemian — Senior Dan Persa could return to the lineup for the Big Ten opener on Oct. 1 in Illinois, but he can't stick around for 2012. The battle to replace Persa ought to be a good one between Siemian, Kain Colter and redshirting freshman Zach Oliver. Siemian started his campaign with a solid relief appearance Saturday as he hit 5 of 7 passes for 105 yards and his second TD pass in as many weeks.
LOOKING GOOD: This list pretty much begins and ends with senior receiver Jeremy Ebert, who accounted for both of NU's scores. Ebert made a circus catch in the end zone during the second quarter, then turned a short Siemian pass into a 62-yard score in the fourth quarter. He finished with 6 catches for 108 yards.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Against a one-dimensional Army offense, NU's defense couldn't handle the triple-option offense. On the occasions when the Wildcats handled their assignments correctly and got to the ball, they struggled to get the ball carrier on the ground. Army averaged 5.5 yards per carry on the 72 runs that weren't sacks or kneel-downs. Kicker Jeff Budzien missed a 26-yard chip shot on the final play of the first half that would've given NU a 10-7 lead at the break.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I totally take the loss today, 100 percent. I feel like it was my fault. I didn't put points on the board, and I didn't help my team. But life is about responding. I'm going to bust my butt to prove that I can play when the team needs me." — NU QB Kain Colter in the Chicago Sun-Times.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
—QB Kain Colter struggled in his third start. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall benched the sophomore in the fourth quarter as NU couldn't mount any second-half drives. Colter finished 12 of 23 through the air for 89 yards and 1 TD. He rushed 10 times for a team-high 57 yards.
—WR Jeremy Ebert made up for his goose-egg in Week 2 against Eastern Illinois. The senior slot receiver earned the Big Ten Network's "Catch of the Day" award for his highlight-reel TD catch in the second quarter and added a 62-yard catch-and-run TD in the fourth quarter. Ebert finished with 6 catches for 108 yards.
—RB Mike Trumpy missed the Eastern Illinois game with a concussion, but he returned in the second quarter against Army and posted 34 yards in 8 carries. Northwestern needs a healthy Trumpy to keep defenses honest.
—QB Dan Persa (Achilles' tendon) missed his sixth consecutive game dating back to his injury on Nov. 10, but he was available for emergency use Sept. 17 against Army. This suggests Persa could be good to go for the Big Ten opener on Oct. 1 at Illinois.
—RB Adonis Smith (lower right leg) did not play after getting hurt on Sept. 10 against Eastern Illinois. It's unknown whether he'll be able to go against Illinois.
—DT Jack DiNardo (leg) missed his second consecutive game. OLB Collin Ellis (broken thumb) and WR Tony Jones (right knee) were the other members of the preseason two-deep that didn't play. DT Brian Arnfelt, listed as a starter entering spring ball, also missed his third game in a row due to injury.